Passengers finally begin to leave coronavirus-hit cruise ship in Japan

So far, 11 virus-free passengers have been allowed to leave the ship.

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By Isobel van Hagen and Arata Yamamoto

Passengers on the quarantined cruise ship off the coast of Yokohama, Japan, finally started disembarking Friday, before being quarantined.

The Japanese Health Ministry said passengers allowed to leave so far are elderly — at least 80 or older — or have a medical condition, or have a windowless room on the ship. They must also have tested negative for the new coronavirus.

The ministry said 11 passengers left the ship Friday before they were quarantined at a government designated facility until at least Feb. 19.

There has been no additional information on the nationalities of the people who have been allowed to leave.

The ministry also reported Friday that 2,000 iPhones were distributed to all rooms, including those of passengers and the crew, with apps installed to make it easier for people to get medical consultations.

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The Diamond Princess cruise ship has been quarantined off the shore of Yokohama since Feb. 4, and began medical testing after a man who was on the ship last month later tested positive for the coronavirus. Authorities have confirmed 771 people have been tested as of Friday, with 218 passengers and crew members testing positive.

At least 32 Americans aboard the cruise ship have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the official new name for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Of those on board who have tested positive for the virus so far, 10 are considered to be in a “serious condition.” There have been no deaths reported on the cruise ship.

The cruise ship is reported to have around 3,700 passengers and crew aboard.

Princess Cruises Executive Vice President Rai Caluori said in a video message this week that the company is doing all it can to ensure the comfort and safety of all those aboard.

Apart from the passengers on the cruise ship, Japan confirmed its first fatality from COVID-19 — the disease caused by the coronavirus — on Friday, which increases the total number of deaths outside mainland China to three. There has been one fatality in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines.

People wearing protective suits walk from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, with around 3,700 people quarantined onboard due to fears of the new coronavirus, at the Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama port on Feb. 10, 2020.Charluy Triballeau / AFP - Getty Images

There have been 40 cases of coronavirus reported so far in Japan, 36 of which involved patients who showed symptoms of the illness.

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China’s national health commission has confirmed more than 60,000 cases of coronavirus in mainland China, as of Friday morning and almost 1,400 virus-related deaths.

"Wartime controls" are continuing to be implemented across different cities Friday in the Hubei province — where the virus is thought to have originated.

Another Princess cruise ship, the Caribbean Princess, returned to the Port of Everglades on Thursday as hundreds of passengers and crew were afflicted with a gastrointestinal illness.

Isobel van Hagen
Arata Yamamoto

Arata Yamamoto has been a NBC News producer in Tokyo since 1993.